Though the title Shriek: An Afterword is somewhat enigmatic, it is also a fair summary of the novel's conceit; this is presented as a biographical afterword to a book by the missing historian Duncan Shriek, written by his sister Janice.

Except that Duncan finds the manuscript before it's published - so when he feels that Janice is giving an inaccurate portrayal of his acts and motives, or of her own, he notes his complaints within the text.

The format is a wonderful idea, and leaves one disappointed that there aren't more biographies where the subject intrudes once the author lapses into conjecture and dubious psychoanalysis.

This cunning satire, which might easily carry a book by itself, is then combined with a haunting portrait of life during wartime, and a heartbreakingly accurate depiction of the end of a love affair.

It is, in short, exactly the sort of book which ought to be in contention for major literary prizes.

In this case, such fears are misplaced; Shriek is a fantastic book, but has little in common with the pale Tolkien retreads commonly published as Fantasy.

True, Vandermeer's style is not for everyone but nonetheless, for lovers of the uncomfortable and slightly unhealthy wordplay of a Will Self, or the fractured cityscapes of M John Harrison, Shriek is a delight.

Alex Sarll